Tuesday, May 27, 2014

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The Interrogation

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The restroom reeked of urine. I could see yellow around the toilet bolts, along the side of the bowl, and slowing drying in a pool on the tile.

We have two bathrooms. One for the kids and one for the adults.

I was in the kids’ bathroom.

I knew someone was going to have to clean it up, and I didn’t want it to be Mel or me. Me for obvious reasons. And Mel because I’d have to hear about it.

So much of parenting comes down to solving a “who-done-it” mystery. Confessions are difficult and evidence is everywhere.

My first suspect was Tristan (my seven-year-old). Norah, our-four-year, was not built to do this kind of damage. Nor was Mel. So this meant it was down to the boy or me.

I found him in the kitchen, eating Lucky Charms and playing the iPad.

“Dude. Did you pee all over the toilet?” I said.

His eyes opened wide and his jaw went slack. He gave me a look of innocence. One that seemed to say, “Don’t hurt me.”

I’ve never hit my son. Or any of my kids. I have no intentions of ever doing so. But when he’s in trouble, he always looks at me like I might, at any time, snap and lay into him like a schoolteacher from the 40s. I will be the first to admit that I love this power. I’m sure that, at some later age, he will not fear me anymore. He will see me as just some old man, weak and feeble, and unable to enforce anything. But right now, with Tristan being 7, I feel all-powerful. I am alpha. I am omega.

I am the giver.

I am the punisher.

“No! I didn’t pee all over the place,” Tristan said.

He was nervous. He was trembling. He was suspicious. He started to speak in nonsense. “I don’t… even pee. I mean… I haven’t peed today. It was probably Norah.”

 “Really Tristan? All day?” I started interrogating. “It’s 2PM. And Norah isn’t equipped to do that kind of damage… Unless she peed in a cup and poured it all over the place.”

I looked at Norah. She was sitting in the living room watching Word Girl. She smiled back at me, and I was struck with fear that I’d given her an idea.

Tristan and I went back and forth for a while. Me, accusing him of the crime, and him attempting to prove his innocence. But he was quickly running out of explanations. He tried blaming it on his mother, which didn’t fly. He tried blaming it on me, which I told him wasn’t an option. If we’d had a dog, I’m sure he’d have blamed it. Eventually he said, “It was Jake!”

Jake was the neighbor boy who spent most of his free time at our house. And indeed, he had been over earlier that morning. I thought I had Tristan pinned until that moment.

This Jake explanation really spoiled my interrogation. Thinking back, I am proud of his ability to find an alternative. It showed his unwillingness to back down, but at the time I was angry because I had thought I had him!

“You know what, it was either you or Jake,” I said. “Jake is your friend. That means his pee is your responsibility. Get in there and clean it up.”

Tristan gave me a terrified look because he knew I had him!

“I can’t clean it up,” he said. “I don’t know how.”

“I’m NOT cleaning up your friend’s piss,” I said.

I set him up with a toilet brush and some cleaner. I told him what to do. He was scrubbing away, his eyes a little misty, when Mel came home from the store.

I told her what happened. I told her about the interrogation. How I’d nailed Tristan! And now he was cleaning the toilet.

I smiled with satisfaction.

“Little boys are so gross,” I said. “I’m not going to clean up his messes. He needs to learn that.”

I assumed she’d be proud of me.

Mel gave me a curt smile, and then she asked me to follow her into our restroom. I asked her why, but she didn’t respond.

Once next to the toilet, she pointed at the floor near the front of the bowl. There was a small pool of pee.

I got nervous.

“Every morning it’s there. Every. Morning. It’s the reason I put slippers on when I get up in the night. I can’t count how many times I’ve stepped in YOUR PEE in the middle of the night, and had to change my socks and clean my feet. Then I end up cleaning YOUR mess. You are just as gross as he is. Only you’re 31 and he’s seven.”

I wanted to stand up for myself. I wanted to blame Tristan. If we had a dog, I’d have thought about blaming it. I wanted to tell her that I don’t turn on the light in the night so that I won’t wake her, and that’s why I can’t hit the bowl. But really, I’m just lazy. I wanted to tell her that I’d never do it again, but I didn’t know if I could commit to that. So I didn’t say anything.

I was busted.  

Mel left the room, and as she walked down the hall, she stopped at the kids’ bathroom and said, “Tristan, thanks for cleaning the toilet. Once you are done with the toilet brush, give it to your father. He needs to clean the pee he got on our toilet.”

I listened to Tristan laugh, and felt like an ass.

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley